Will market forces fix global warming? It would be a global catastrophe.

April 22, 2017 by Joshua
in Nature

In the past: “We don’t have to act on global warming. The market will take care of everything.”

When the market responds to global warming: “Help! Subsidize us! Protect us from the market!”

Many people think we’ll avoid the worst predictions about global warming because market forces will drive up costs of fossil fuels as they become more scarce and motivate entrepreneurs to create new solutions.

I don’t think they realize what “market forces” means in this context.

A business that becomes unprofitable often downsizes, meaning it finds the part of it that is losing money most and sells it. Doing so is often difficult, but when a company has too many people it has to get rid of them.

If the Earth’s ability to sustain civilization and human life decreases, we can’t sell off a division. The global equivalent of selling off a division or downsizing is that people die. That’s what a “market correction” means when it’s about population size, not share prices.

There are no banks with connections to spare planets that might buy our extra population like an underperforming division. Even if we could colonize the Moon or Mars, we would only send a few people to start the colonies. We can’t move that many people from here to there. If we trashed this planet, there’s a reasonable chance we’ll trash the next one too.

I’m writing about the problems with hoping market forces will help us because of this New York Times story,

When Rising Seas Transform Risk Into Certainty

Along parts of the East Coast, the entire system of insuring coastal property is beginning to break down.

NY Times Rising SeasWhat this article is about

Rising sea levels are flooding homes on the United States east coast. The effect is increasing. It’s happening globally, but the article only looks at this coast.

The government, instead of letting the market decide prices, can’t help subsidizing the market, preventing market forces from changing behavior. In other words:

In the past: “We don’t have to act on global warming. The market will take care of everything.”

When the market responds to global warming: “Help! Subsidize us! Protect us from the market!”

What the effect means now, before the problems start in earnest, about a woman whose house got flooded by rising sea levels:

Staton lay awake at night wondering what to do. “I hate that house—that house has been my nightmare for 10 years,”

She loved the house when she bought it. Now that rising sea levels are destroying it, she hates it.

Get ready to start experiencing that effect about the planet within a couple decades if we don’t work as hard as we can to change our behavior to reduce our warming behavior a lot.

We can’t undo the past, and a lot of rising will happen no matter what we do now, but there are degrees of problems. We can at least step off the gas.

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